The Horror genre has been in a peculiar position as of late. A few recent titles aside, the genre has for the most part been suffering, or at least on the consoles (admittedly I’m not as knowledgeable on the P.C. end of things.) The recent Resident Evil games have in my opinion become simple action shooters that even lack the common jump scares found in other games and the more pressured situations just seem to lack true horror, what I mean to say is that the puzzles or difficult enemies are no scarier than those you’d encounter in any RPG. Dead Space 3 seemed to follow suit and then there are games like Left4Dead which are touted as horror but really appears to be a one way first person shooter, MOBA type game. Sure the infected players can be scary but I don’t think they quite qualify as horror since at best they can simulate a jump scare by attacking the player when they least expect it. Luckily a proper reemergence appears to be on the rise.
Now there are plenty of players who’re fine continuing with the endless number of shooters, RPG, MOBA’s and whatnot which is fine, I have a blast playing all of those just like you do but Horror games bring experiences that are unlike most of the others. Usually the player is at least made to feel like the one who is vulnerable rather than the mighty hero. Obviously there are exceptions but this theme, I feel, makes the genre important to the industry because it delivers a unique experience in a special way. Every genre is unique but the methodology is what’s important here, in most other games you may start as ignorant and/or weak but for the most part, before you know it, you’ve become quite formidable and some opposing entity is now aware of you whether it be some Dark Lord, a Private Military Company or group of Elite Assassins. In Horror games though, the objective from the designer’s perspective is usually to make the player feel like they’re vulnerable and at times, are nothing more than the oppositions play thing. In Horror games, you should usually feel like you’re on the run. This unique role is where the value behind the horror game lies. So when all of these recent “Horror” games made me feel like the Master Chief, Commander Shepard or Marcus Fenix, they sort of lost their value. That’s where I feel we’ve been for the past few years, instead of focusing on what makes us vulnerable, we’ve usually been given characters that are essentially just badassing their way through all opposition and if they can’t kill immediately, they find a bigger gun. This may be vague but it gets the point across, we’re shooting the zombies and they’re dying…. long before they have any shot at attacking us let alone scaring us.
As I said before though, there are some games which have recently caught my eye and I imagine some of you could probably guess which ones. First off there was Alien: Isolation where admittedly, I didn’t really care for many of the “Working Joe” encounters but I
guess there had to be some fluff scenarios in there. I’m not saying they weren’t tough at times but they didn’t do anything to add to the horror. Human enemy’s long range capabilities made them an issue earlier on since your own lethal options were quite limited, when you factor in Amanda Ripley’s low health, it could make for some challenging situations but let’s be serious; the Alien was the actual Horror part of the game. YOU COULDN’T KILL THE DAMN THING!!! It followed you almost the whole time and you couldn’t kill it! After a time you got the gist of what areas were safe and which it would appear in but the Xeno, at best could only be held off and the Flamethrower which was your best option really didn’t come into play until much later in the game. Think those side vents are safe? Nope, the Alien can get in there; think he won’t see you under the desk? (Yes, you can hide under desks which is awesome because it makes you feel as though anything would due in terms of hiding yourself) You’re funny because if there’s even a chance he saw you, odds are he did. Elements like that make the game unique. The Alien isn’t quite like Nemesis or Pyramid head, making appearances and hunting you throughout portions of missions as much as he’s like a sprinting Slenderman, always around and hunting you down. You can and will hide but at best he’ll retreat to an overhead air duct and wait until you dare make a sound. This is Horror, you’re vulnerable to an enemy clearly stronger than yourself and there’s very little you can do about it. Your options are to use anything at your disposal to keep him at bay and that’s the best case scenario. Only at the very end will you begin to feel confident, armed to the teeth with makeshift explosives, adapted weapons, and even then if he gets up close, you are done. Some may think, “So should Developers just make immortal enemies?” Well no, that’d just be boring; it’s more about the execution. The Xeno was immortal yes, but it was reactive and attracted to sound above all else. The Alien even impacted the way you interacted with other enemies, perhaps it was best to sneak around targets you could otherwise kill easily because in killing them, you’d attract it. On the other hand, maybe it was time to weaponize the Alien by throwing a noise maker at a group of enemies and sneaking by while it tore them to shreds (making use of his superior physical ability.) In any case you knew he was a threat and until pretty late in the game, there was no question as to who was the prey. Most importantly you were left vulnerable! The mere presence of the Alien didn’t spell your doom but, it put you in your place... which was most likely in a locker or under the bed.
Next up there’s The “Evil Within” which is a modern take on the Horror Genre’s roots! It felt as though old school Resident Evil met traditional Silent Hill. I won’t go as far into detail with this game but I’d like to point out a few things. The very first enemy you encounter in game (the Sadist) can be attacked from behind easily, as if it were meant to be! It isn’t.
Doing so will result in your immediate, gruesome death. Right from the start you’re made aware of how weak our protagonist is. Even when attacking from behind we’re taken out as if we were nothing. Now, as it was in older Horror games, perhaps even more so, you do begin to feel exponentially deadlier with each new weapon found and the common enemies go down just as easily as you would expect. But, theunique enemies like the previously mentioned Sadist or the Keeper can in one form or another absorb massive amounts of damage before dying, The Sadist is extremely durable and don’t even get me started on the Keepers regenerating ability. I mean, it will just keep getting back up, several times before staying down for good.
Additionally there are traps lying around throughout the entire game. It really didn’t matter how much ammo you had if you didn’t see the bear trap hidden within that patch of grass. These aren’t new mechanics but they’ve been brought back and used well in tandem with our various foes. When taking these traditional elements and mixing them up right with a new theme, keeping the game difficult without being strictly impossible, you manage to create a vulnerable atmosphere. At least I felt so. Again, I don’t plan on going over all the details since the game is quite like the Horror games of old but, it was definitely worth mentioning.
Looking ahead we have games like Dying Light, Dead Island 2, and the new highly anticipated Silent Hill (as well as many others.) It’s clear that Horror is trying to make a comeback. Although I feel it will only regain the same respect it once held amongst both players and the industry, if they start focusing on the right combination of mechanics again
rather than getting lazy and just dropping dozens of enemies in from of players armed with a plethora of big guns. If developers follow a thought process similar to Creative Assembly’s (Creative Assembly is the Developer which is why it’s spelled like that) “Alien: Isolation” and Tango Gameworks’ “The Evil Within” we may just see a true comeback of the Horror genre. Obviously we don’t want to oversaturate the market with these games. Even if they do return to these “old school” core Horror elements, we would become desensitized to the games but, it’d be nice to have a few solid franchises we could trust to deliver a scare again! On a side note, I would like to see a properly done, next generation Dead Space game, perhaps… one day. Anyway, vulnerability everyone, vulnerability is the key!